“We Heart LA Parks” includes an interactive “LA Park Adventures Board Game” that serves as a tour and activity guide for parks across the city. Contributed photos

Filipina American publisher Teena Apeles details the activity book’s complicated conception and creation during quarantine

Los Angeles is known for many things. It’s the birthplace of modern entertainment, it’s the capital of celebrity and all things glamour, and it’s home to a pastiche of communities that make LA a one-of-a-kind global city.

But what people may not know is that LA is also home to a diverse array of parks, which may not be on the top list of LA’s treasures, but an asset of the city that deserves recognition — and which many Angelenos, frankly, take for granted.

LA is home to more than 50 public parks which serve the more than 3.8 million Angelenos who live within city limits. Aside from the quotidian recreational services that parks offer, LA parks have been the sites of public demonstrations, sanctuaries for minority communities and venues for countless community gatherings.

Teena Apeles, a longtime publisher and founder of the independent publishing house Narrated Objects, wanted to make sure that the public parks of LA get the recognition and appreciation that they deserve.

“We Heart LA Parks” is a collaboration between Narrated Objects, three contributing writers (Julia Bogany, Dennis Cooper and Miguel Ordenna), the LA Neighborhood Land Trust, and dozens of amateur and professional artists.

A new coloring book/all-inclusive guide to LA parks called “We Heart L.A. Parks” — which is available to buy now on Narrated Objects’ website and various local bookstores in LA (see the list below) — examines each of these diverse grounds and, through original illustrations and personal stories, captures the essence of each neighborhood’s unique locale.

To merely call “We Heart L.A. Parks” a coloring book doesn’t do it justice. In addition to providing insight from local park rangers, the numerous activities and games, ways in which to reach each park via public transportation and incredibly detailed illustrations begging to be colored, the book is simultaneously personal and extensive, a comprehensive guide to what makes LA parks truly special, Apeles shared with the Asian Journal in a recent interview.

“To me it’s so much nicer to see a community of voices expressed, and what’s the park without the people?” said Apeles, who has dedicated more than two decades to the publishing world. “It’s not just a coloring book: it’s a history [and] it’s about the people, not just the parks — people make parks.”

Each illustration is a representation of how each artist sees and experiences each park, many of which have rich cultural connotations. For example, the illustration of the historic MacArthur Park in the Westlake neighborhood of LA by Filipino American artist and junior high school student Miles Castro symbolizes the variety of ways in which minority communities in LA have used the park as a congregation.

It features faces familiar to the park including an elderly Latina woman, who symbolizes the park’s history as a nucleus for the Latin American community in LA; Asian American rapper and producer Anderson .Paak who hosts a yearly community celebration at the park; and an elderly Filipino couple who represent the park’s role as a sanctuary for socializing as well as rallying to demand benefits for Filipino veterans.

“MacArthur Park is important to me because the beautiful natural landscape in the middle of a busy city is such a wonderful place,” Castro wrote in the book.

This illustration of MacArthur Park — and the comprehensive description that comes with every illustration — is just one of the many treasures of “We Heart LA Parks,” which features more than 40 artists and contributors aged between 8 and 87, a majority of whom are people of color.

Publisher Teena Apeles’s 9-year-old daughter Dominie was one of the artists featured in the book. | Photo courtesy of Teena Apeles

Apeles said that they ended up inadvertently with several local Filipino American contributors, including Castro, Eliseo Art Silva, Maite Z. Alday, Dean Rullan, and Dominie “Nica” Apeles, Teena Apeles’s 9-year-old daughter.

“It comes down to this: I do my best to give her opportunities I didn’t have, and for her to also celebrate being Filipino and to have a lot of Filipinos in the book, which was not necessarily by design, but in the end I said, ‘Hey I can make a space for us, and include all these other communities that also don’t have great opportunities in publishing,’” Apeles said.

Apeles and Narrated Objects co-editor Andrea Richards previously published in 2017 “We Heart P-22,” an activity book similar to “We Heart L.A. Parks” that celebrates the famous lone mountain lion named P-22 that lived in Griffith Park that became an “ambassador of urban wildlife,” according to Narrated Objects.

“We Heart L.A. Parks” is somewhat of a continuation of the mission that began with “We Heart P-22” (of which a portion of proceeds go to the habitat conservation group Friends of Griffith Park) which also featured a diverse cluster of artists and contributors.

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, around fall 2020, Apeles and her team at Narrated Objects decided to put out an open call for artists — amateur and professional — to share their illustrations of different parks across the city and showcase why those parks mattered to them.

The book’s feature of the historical MacArthur Park (illustrated by Filipino American artist Miles Castro) is a highlight of the book that features an elderly Filipino couple who represent the park’s significance to Filipino World War II veterans.

The project became much more than the team originally conceived and after a few delayed publishing dates, the 138-page coloring book/activity book/collaborative manifesto celebrating parks and wildlife was released on May 24.

“This [book] came about because we needed to make connections and we hope people don’t stop trying to connect in profound ways whether through art, or storytelling, or just taking a walk and saying hi to someone on the street,” Apeles said. “A lot of the parks in the book were brought about because people fought for them. And you know, if you are in an area that doesn’t have a park, you know you can read this book and see how some people have brought parks to their neighborhoods.”

A portion of the proceeds for this book go to the LA Neighborhood Land Trust, which is dedicated to the maintenance and development of the city’s public parks and gardens.

Apeles continued, “We hope with this book that you feel emboldened to get to know your neighbors and neighborhoods because each has a long history and a rich history, so we hope to continue that and maintain those necessary connections.”

For those who live in LA, “We Heart LA Parks” is available at Skylight Books in Los Feliz, The Library Store in Downtown LA, Once Upon a Time Bookstore in Montrose, and Leanna Lin’s Wonderland in Eagle Rock.

Klarize Medenilla

Klarize Medenilla is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at k.medenilla@asianjournalinc.com.

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